Jennings sues LaFollette; wants $1.3 million

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By Susan Sharp

Not being in an elected office isn’t keeping one time Mayor Cliff Jennings out of the spotlight.

Last week he filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against his former employer, the city of LaFollette.

In the complaint, Jennings alleged that in January his pension and health benefits were terminated by the city and those acting on its behalf. He was not given forewarning of this nor was he allowed to be heard on the matter, the lawsuit said.

It was an unequivocal breach of a resolution the city passed six months earlier. In August 2008, the council agreed to lower the city’s retirement age from 60 to 57 for 90 days following the adoption of the resolution. Within this, employees with 20 years of service who chose to retire under the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System during this period would receive fully paid health care benefits, the court filing said.

After losing his bid for reelection in November 2008, Jennings exercised this option, retiring after having served with the city for 23 years.

Two months later, his benefits were stopped.

Now, he claims in the suit, they were discontinued because he has spoken out against the city and some of its officials.

While this is violation of his civil rights, it also infringes upon his rights guaranteed in the state constitution, the filing said.

Because he exercised his right of free speech by publicly addressing the alleged violations of the city charter by its officials, Jennings claims he is being retaliated against. Had the benefits not been terminated, Jennings could have continued under the city’s health plan until he became eligible for Medicare, the court document said. Under the city’s employee handbook, medical benefits can’t be terminated unless coverage for all city employees is stopped, Jennings claimed in the suit. Even then, three months notice is required.

Jennings is afflicted with a multitude of health problems including high blood pressure and sleep apnea that require continuous treatment. The defendants in the case were aware of this but chose to move forward, the lawsuit said.

It was done in a manner that was malicious and meant to cause Jennings “economic consequences,” according to the lawsuit.

He has asked for $300,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.